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How to Calm an Elderly Person with Dementia

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A grandmother with dementia is going for a walk in the senior living community with her loved one while holding arms.

It’s a sad fact, but many older adults with dementia have an impaired ability to think, remember, and make decisions. Besides these cognitive changes, loved ones with dementia can also present psychological changes. 

Anxiety, agitation, paranoia, and mood swings are common behavioral and personality changes in dementia. Memory care in senior living communities offers research-based programs and personalized, supportive care for residents with dementia. 

We understand it’s difficult for caregivers, who often feel powerless to calm their loved ones. So, what do you do? We provide tips and techniques to calm someone with dementia before it escalates.

Ways to Calm an Elderly Person with Dementia

As the condition progresses, older adults with dementia can become frustrated with memory loss, episodes of confusion, and restlessness. Some factors can intensify symptoms:

  • Sudden change in living arrangements
  • Changes to a routine
  • Change in caregiver
  • New visitor
  • Too many people
  • Too little sleep
  • Unfamiliar environment
  • Confrontation with others

While you can’t always avoid or prevent triggers, there are ways to support and calm a loved one with dementia:

Remain Calm

Loved ones living with dementia can’t control their feelings or outbursts. And it’s easy to become stressed or agitated yourself. But remember, your first interaction with them will set the stage for their behavior.

You can take a moment to breathe and calm down. It will help you handle the situation better, identify the cause of agitation, and assure your loved one feels safe. 


Approach and listen to what your loved one is saying with understanding. Validate what is causing the distress and empathize with the situation. Offer help if they’re willing to take it. 

Gently touching or patting their hands and rubbing their back can provide a calming effect and increase trust. 

Give Reassurance

Providing reassurance is being present and acknowledging what they say, whether it makes sense. Don’t judge their actions or words. Instead, focus on their feelings to make them feel heard. 

Gentle questioning rather than being confrontational can calm their anxiety, improve communication, and avoid escalating the situation. 

Even if you don’t understand the root cause of their feelings, they need to know they are safe and you are there to support them no matter the situation. 

Notice Signs of Discomfort

Irritability, restlessness, and fidgeting can all lead to aggression or agitation. Both internal and external environmental factors can cause physical discomfort. 

Examples include lack of sleep, hunger, thirst, pain, or uncomfortable clothing. Ensuring they are physically comfortable and well-rested can reduce their agitation. 

Change the Situation

If the cause of agitation is unknown, change something to see if it makes a difference. Move to a quieter space for environmental factors such as loud noise or people. 

In overwhelming situations, distraction can ease their agitation and calm them. You can use an object, food, or an activity to distract them. 

Reestablish Routine

Loved ones with dementia know what to expect with routines. Even minor adjustments can trigger signs of agitation and anxiety. 

If you start to notice signs of agitation, reestablish their routine. This is comforting and puts them back in control.

A Group of elderly persons with dementia are painting as part of their engaging activities to create a calm environment.


Engaging in activities can take their mind off anxieties. Calming activities can include:

  • Listening to music
  • Playing an instrument
  • Reading
  • Art
  • Going for a walk 
  • Going for a car ride

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) or pet therapy can improve mental health in dementia patients by reducing feelings of anxiety. 

Seek Support

When a loved one with dementia becomes agitated, causes can include a medical condition or medical interactions. It’s always best to consult their doctor to rule out other causes. 

Preventing Agitation 

If you know the triggers and causes of anxiety and agitation in dementia patients, removing them can help reduce these behaviors:

  • Create a calm environment without stressors.
  • Avoid environmental triggers such as noise, glare, or sensory overload.
  • Maintain personal comfort with basic needs such as meals, sleep, comfortable temperature and clothing, and medical. 
  • Keep things simple and stick to a routine.
  • Offer opportunities for engaging activities. 

Memory Care Support for Dementia

There are many different reasons someone with dementia might become agitated, but it is never their fault. They are just struggling with symptoms of a condition that can only progress. 
The most effective way to calm them is by validating their feelings to help reduce the agitation. If you need support for a loved one with dementia, contact Arcadia at Limerick Pointe. You can also book a tour to learn more about our highly-acclaimed Compass Memory Care program.

Written by Arcadia Limerick Pointe

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